New school year brings new approaches to local education

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As College Place opens its new high school this fall, it will look a little different from traditional schools — and it has nothing to do with the building. The differences will be its approach to education.

“I want (the high school) to be a lighthouse to how to do things different,” College Place Superintendent Tim Payne said earlier this summer.

The approach will be more focused on teaching lessons through real-world principles that Payne and others expect will excite students and prepare them for a career.

College Place isn’t alone in Eastern Washington in attempting to plow new ground with curriculum. The Pasco School District plans to have three new elementary schools in which the focus will be on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Pasco is so serious about this approach the schools are named after pioneering female scientists and included STEM in the moniker.

The first of the schools to open its doors will be Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School. Students will be at their desks in a few short weeks as the 2014-2015 school year begins.

The other two schools, Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock STEM elementary, will be ready for the 2015-16 school year. The three schools will have an emphasis on math and science but also integrate subjects into project-based learning.

College Place High School, too, will use the project approach.

“Most schools look at school in a very linear pattern,” CPHS Principal Kirk Jameson said. “They look at teachers for where they went to college, what are their certifications ... and we just took a different approach. We want project-based, we want kids to have hands-on (experience).”

Taking new approaches has some risk, but the reward could be significant.

Every student learns in slightly different ways. Yet, the education system in this country pretty much takes a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s been changing over the past few decades, and now it seems as if innovation is in full swing on this side of the Cascades.

And these efforts should be closely watched by lawmakers, educators, parents and taxpayers — all of us.

The education system needs improvement and the concepts being explored in Eastern Washington might well lead to substantial progress.

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